“If you asked him who he supported, his answer was always ‘the game’
Harry Kimble had a thing for hats. He wore more than a few during his time in rugby as a ball boy, player, umpire, golden oldie, treasurer, videographer, rugby writer and historian. Some of them were even actual headgear with the crest of his beloved West Harbor Pirates, the Sydney club, which was his touchstone in a fascinating, world-spanning rugby life.
Harry, a regular at The Roar, died last year, almost 70 years after he made his debut in 1952 as a ball boy at the Concord Oval, the ground where his own father had played in the 1930s. A product of Sydney’s then-unfashionable inner west, Harry’s beginnings would later have a profound impact on his life.
A nimble but easy hooker, he loved the game without striving for higher honors. After starting his rugby career at West Harbor (then known as Western Suburbs) he played for clubs across Sydney from Mosman to Nepean and Port Hacking to Greystanes.
He also directed youth games there – complaints and insults from the audience literally fell on deaf ears, as his widow Ronda recalls.
“I remember seeing him as a referee once and I was pretty upset when I heard what people were saying about him,” she says. “But Harry was deaf and luckily he had his hearing aids out before the game!”
Later, after reconnecting with the club of his youth, he rediscovered the appeal of international rugby tours – sparked by a golden oldies trip to Europe in 1985 for Wests’ Black Knights.
While rugby was great, during the tour Harry also made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of rugby, Rugby School in the Midlands of England. Suddenly there was a whole world of rugby to digest, and while his playing days might be drawing to a close, Harry embraced a new way of enjoying and serving the game – writing about it for rugby magazines – and later websites the roar.
In 1990 Harry was in Hong Kong to see Campo and others at the annual sevens tournament, this time with accreditation as a freelance reporter for a rugby magazine.
A few years later he made his first trip to South Africa to cover the first test of the Springboks after the country’s long isolation during the apartheid era. But if Hong Kong had been a wild party, South Africa was memorable for darker reasons.
“Harry was on a train platform en route to a local game in Pretoria when he was robbed,” recalls Ronda. “They took his wallet and watch from him, although Harry was more worried about losing his hearing aids. He broke his finger and when he called me it was only the second time I heard him cry. He flew home the next day.”
Still, international rugby fever had run deep and Harry had returned for more from the Hong Kong Sevens in 1993 and 1994 and then again in 2007. He also trod the less traveled rugby path, from New York to Iran, as recognition of the wild grew in remote corners of the world.
“He wrote about women players in Afghanistan,” says Ronda. “He streamed games between Georgia and Romania or Spain and Portugal. Even before the internet, he found ways to follow the international scene, including translating Russian and Italian match reports.
“He followed the Wallabies and had a soft spot for Georgia, but if you asked him who he supported, his answer was always ‘the game.'”
Between his travels – both real and virtual – Harry continued to support the pirates. He regularly attended home games where he discussed rugby with fellow club members such as Bob Ellis and Vili Alaalatoa (father of wallaby Allan and Samoa captain Michael).
It’s little wonder that one of those die-hard West Harbor fans verbally noticed his establishment and—no doubt knowing Harry’s love for a project he could sink his teeth into—offered a suggestion. Harry had volunteered as the club’s video cameraman, committee member and archivist over the years. So why not write a history of West Harbor before key moments are lost in the mists of time?
The proposal grew into one of Harry’s greatest gifts to West Harbor and Rugby – a self-titled history of pirates between 1900 and 2011 Against all odds. an updated edition, The caravan moves onwas completed in 2019 to celebrate the club’s 120th anniversary.
Though the proud club has endured tough times of late, it has produced a number of Wallabies over the years, from Stan Wickham in the early 1900s to Alaalatoa more than a century later. Harry’s labors of love preserved the story of West Harbor’s triumphs and its challenges, not the least of which are those associated with being a struggling club in Sydney’s western suburbs when most of its advantages are concentrated in the east.
In his foreword to the updated story, Harry wrote: “…sometimes I wonder if rugby officials know the game is being played west of Missenden Road.”
It is of course thanks to those like Harry who patiently and consistently nurture the ‘grassroots’ of rugby and all the other parts of our weird and wonderful game.
Vale, Harry Kimble.
https://www.theroar.com.au/2023/03/02/harry-kimble-a-life-in-rugby-if-you-asked-him-who-he-supported-his-answer-was-always-the-game/ "If you asked him who he supported, his answer was always 'the game'